Mike Willemsen, better known by his stage name Mike Williams, is only 23 years old, yet he’s already considered one of the pioneers of the Future Bounce genre, and he’s also teamed up with big names such as Tiësto and R3hab. So, why did he make it, when so many stay in anonymity? He understands the importance of social media and thinks somewhat outside the box, but most of all, he understands how the industry works. We sat down before his show at Club Cirkus and asked him for a few tips on how to make it in the DJ business.
Don't underestimate peer power
Mike is certain that an unknown artist should send his songs to well-established DJs, rather than labels. And we let him explain why in person.
Videos are a window into his creative process
In the last couple of years, Mike has been releasing videos on YouTube, depicting his life on the road, giving fans a look at what it would be like to be with him on tour. He's also published two videos titled “In the Studio With Mike Williams”, step-by-step tutorials on the way he produces.
These videos are also his homage to the videos he used himself while learning the art of producing. “I know how beneficial it is to watch a video and to see another DJ explaining his tracks, or explaining the things he does in the studio. So I decided to do it myself, as I got a lot of requests about it. People were asking me: 'Yo, when are you going to put some videos online of how you made this track,' or 'how do you mix your tracks, how do you 'moss''. Like really technical stuff, and I think it’s cool to show people that,” he said ahead of his show in Ljubljana.
Social media: Do it yourself
Mike swears on managing his socials himself: “Everything is me. I think it was last year when we decided for maybe three or four months, because we had a heavy schedule, to have management a bit more involved in the process, and I saw my engagement going down. It’s not because of the management, it’s just that people see it’s not you, see when it’s not natural. And that, for me, was like an eye-opener. I really need to post things myself, because people are going to see when it’s not me. Now I do everything myself, only like the flyers or something that isn't really personal, management can do that.”
Mike’s strongest channel is Spotify. He has about 240k followers, which is not a bad number in itself, but a staggering 6.6M monthly streams tell a bigger story.
Think about the visual elements at live gigs
When it comes to live gigs, musicians should understand the importance of engaging as many senses as possible, and as Mike says, it’s also important to have a good crew behind you: “I think the visual element is really important. It’s getting more and more important, and the tech is getting better, especially talking about syncing with your track. And with all the bigger shows, like the medium to bigger shows, we have our VJ, Gio, with us. He’s a super talented guy and he knows every track. He even knows when I’m mixing it in. He recognizes it, he’s super good. I think the visual aspect is really important, but music is still number one, of course. So when building a show, I make sure that everything is perfect. I mean everything, the lights, the visuals, the music, and so give the people that 'whoa' effect.”
Something mysterious is coming
We asked Mike about his plans and wishes, and stumbled onto a secret: “I have a couple of goals in 2020. I think it’s mainly doing bigger shows, bigger festivals. We’re working on a big solo show for this year. I don’t even know if I can say it (laughs). So that’s one goal, to expand my profile a bit more. I mean festivalwise, it would be cool to do EDC once more. We’re doing Ultra this year again, so that’s perfect. I mean Coachella is on my bucket list. But I guess it’s difficult for European DJs to get more into the US scene. We’re working on it.”
Find your sound
Mike started playing the piano as a child, and he still uses the ivories as a basis for creating his music. In 2016, he was discovered by Tiësto, they did a collab together, and that exposed him to the global public. And throughout that time, he worked hard on his music, creating his unique sound on a somewhat subconscious level.
All the best musicians have a distinct sound. When you’re listening to bands like AC/DC, Pearl Jam, Guns N' Roses, even if you don’t know the song, you know immediately that it’s them. Usually that's because of a singer’s characteristic voice, but in production, things aren’t that simple. Producers have to rely on samples and sounds, and the way they mix them. Still, the best producers in Electronic music, like Martin Garrix or Timmy Trumpet, or if we go into Techno, Paul Kalkbrenner and UMEK, to name a few, have managed to create that uniqueness.
"Now everyone says: 'Oh yeah, that’s a Mike Williams sound,' and I’m like, I don’t know how that’s a Mike Williams sound?"
Mike Williams believes you should go with what feels right to you personally: “I think it’s something that happens naturally. I think there are a lot of producers who are struggling with it, like, 'I have to find my sound.' But it’s mainly the way you mix, the way you produce sounds, the way you pick them, and that occurs naturally. It was the same for me. I started producing in a way that I liked, and thought it was good. Now everyone says: 'Oh yeah, that’s a Mike Williams sound,' and I’m like, I don’t know how that’s a Mike Williams sound? How can you hear it? Apparently people can hear it, and it’s not really on purpose. The moment you have that, then you know that you have your sound.”
To recap: find your sound by doing what feels right, send your stuff to well-established DJs, do something out of the box, ie. create funny or informative videos, plan your live performances carefully, and be genuine when talking to your fans on social media. After all, Mike is proof that the personal touch is what works on social channels, and that you yourself are your best possible promoter.
Talent is, of course, important, yet networking is key. A smart first step, if you're an artist and just starting out, is to register and claim your Artist Page on Viberate.
Cover photo: Marko Delbello Ocepek
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